Julian Stallabrass

Julian was born in 1960 in England. Lives and works in England.

This piece is part of a long project placing images and words together
to make sense of a photographer’s relation to the world. It was
conceived first as a book, but has also been shown as a projection.
The latent image that formed the basis for these words was first
imprinted on my mind at a time of illness. Running a high fever
for weeks, the heat of the blood had scrambled memories, dreams,
thoughts and imaginings so that they became present all at once, like
images etched on overlapping panes of glass.
Normally, the brain functions like an efficient enough computer. Since
it takes resources to store information, the things used most are stored
in the most accessible places.
Dreams and fever do strange things to the mind, though, letting it
run free, cycling through and scrambling the lesser used parts of the
memory and kneading it into present thought. Against that organic
memory, patterned with myriad associations and affections, discrete
periods collapsing into a single plane, shifting and flickering like
the shadows of leaves in a breeze, how violent and arbitrary is the
photograph, an immobile slice of the present.
Yet what extraordinary memories we have for these still, dumb
pictures. Researchers tried to find out how many images people could
recognise, after being shown them briefly once. The mind’s capacity
outran the researchers’ patience—the proportion of mistakes the
subjects made in recognising which pictures they had seen before was
no different at 100 images than it was at 10,000. These images, crude
though they may be, nestle in the brain’s branches like flocks of birds,
ready to take wing at the slightest prompting.

The memory for images is only unlimited for recognition, not cold,
unprompted recall. Does this go some way to explaining the ceaseless
wandering of photographers? There is a character of Kundera’s who
says that if you want to remember, you can’t stay in one place, waiting
for the memories to come to you: memories are scattered all over the
world, and it takes travelling to uncover them.
If it takes wandering to recover memories, this is because different
places (even within the same city) are living in different times (or,
more exactly, that each place contains many different times telescoped
together in different configurations, a state-of-the-art factory amid
cardboard dwellings), and that in walking from one to another,
the processes of history can be a little uncovered each time. That
concatenation of past and present in an environment is ideally suited
to being illumined by photography.